Monday, July 27, 2015

worth the reward

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 I have begun wearing yoga pants for ABY (anything but yoga) and I have an assortment of nursing tank tops from Target that have been a second skin for the past five months. Suffice to say I’m not in a place where I’m taking a lot of fashion “risks” (unless you count looking like a Total Mom a risk). However, in a time not so long ago I might go out on a limb with a “look” if you will. In fact I’ll have you know when I was 7 months pregnant I bought a pair of maroon suede dunks because I was absolutely certain that I was going to be the kind of mom who could pull off high tops. I realized when the pregnancy hormones/ online shopping high wore off that no, no I was not and rather than making me look like a cool sporty lady said dunks made my swollen calves look like leggings-clad tree trunks and it was essentially the female equivalent of a dad with an earring. But you know, you live and you learn.

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High tops aside, in most cases I hold a basic philosophy, or I guess you could call it a mantra, when it comes to a new item of clothing that I’m not quite sure I can pull off. I recited it my friend Val one afternoon in college when she was hesitating on wearing either a fedora or some parachute pants or a one shoulder tank top (or some other early 00’s fashion abomination that seemed amazingly haute couture at the time). “You just rock it” I told her. “Whenever I’m about to wear something that I’m not sure I can pull off, I just leave the house before I can reconsider.” The guarantee is this: before you can let enough self doubt creep in that you scuttle home and change at least three people will compliment you on the new look and you’ll find the risk is worth the reward. You just rock it. Wear the pants/hat/tank like you own it and the world will take notice.

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I find this basic philosophical framework bodes well towards cooking outside of your comfort zone as well. I guess these days since I’m spending less time crafting together smartly curated outfits I’m extending the “act first, think later” framework to our weeknight dinners. On a whim a few weeks ago I bought a big giant pack of soba noodles in an attempt to recreate something I had eaten from a Thai food truck. I was a little intimidated as I almost always am when it comes to a new ingredient that feels outside of my wheelhouse. But the end result was a new, healthy weeknight staple dish that is super fast and totally yummy. The risk of the new is almost always worth the reward of expansion, whether it’s jazzing up your wardrobe or spicing up your same stable of weeknight meals. And if we’re being serious here the worst thing that could happen in this scenario would be that dinner is a disaster and you have to order pizza. And if pizza is your worst case scenario well then, your life is alright.

GARLIC GINGER SOBA NOODLES 
with SPINACH and MUSHROOMS 

2 bundles Japanese Soba noodles (about ¼ a large package)
1-2 tbsp. oil (olive, grapeseed or canola)
1-2 tsp. butter
1 shallot, finely minced
3-4 scallions (white and light green parts only, dark green reserved)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2-3 tsp. ginger, grated
Equal parts shitake and white button mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 2- 2 ½ cups total)
1 bag baby spinach
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2-3 tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 tsp. Sriracha
4-5 dashes fish sauce
Generous drizzle of honey
½ to ¾ cup shelled edamame
½ cup cashews, toasted
Toasted Sesame Oil (optional)

Optional accompaniments:
Crispy Baked Tofu
Fried or hard boiled eggs

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Set a large pot of water to boil. In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring less frequently so they brown up a bit in spots, for about 5-8 minutes. If the pan gets very dry, feel free to add a touch more oil or another pat of butter. Add scallions, ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant (about 2 minutes), then add half of: soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, Sriracha and a small drizzle of honey. Add edamame and spinach in handfuls until it wilts down.

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Taste and test sauce for flavor, adjust with reserved soy, vinegar, honey and Sriracha. If you want it a bit saltier add more soy, more tangy- add more vinegar, spicier- Sriracha or a bit more sweetness drizzle in a little more honey. Stir everything together and reduce heat to low. Drop soba noodles into salted water and stir around. Let cook according to package directions (usually only about 5 minutes); drain and add directly into the skillet of vegetables. Stir everything together and taste again. Adjust sauce if necessary, adding more of anything you think it may need; if you want it a bit more saucy, you can spoon in a little of the noodle water. Transfer noodles and veggies to bowls and serve with Crispy Baked Tofu or a fried or boiled egg on top, or both (you could also add sautéed shrimp, chicken or flank steak if you were feeling like you needed some animal protein). Garnish with chopped cashews, the reserved green scallions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

all in the approach

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When I was about 26 I began to teach myself how to cook. Out of both curiosity and necessity. As I have shared here before I was once very overweight, and learning to cook for myself was a huge step in the process of losing the extra pounds. I had dabbled a bit before in the kitchen and I could certainly make basics like pasta or marinated steak tips; but with the need for healthy food came a curiosity in cooking that had apparently laid dormant for years. One of the first “fancy” foods I experimented with were Asian Lettuce Wraps, just like these. I made them for a New Years Eve party with my roommates that was more “5 people getting drunk and having a violent dance party” than “actual party” but you know in those days, if the party was small you just committed yourself to drinking until it got weird or someone split their pants break dancing on the kitchen floor.

I feel very fortunate that much of my knowledge in the kitchen seems to be innate. And more fortunate still that I don’t just take an interest in preparing food, but a great joy in it. Because we all gotta eat, right? I learned both this approach and my basic skills from many women in my life, but one in particular: my mother. Even though frozen, convenience and microwave foods were totally en vogue in the 80s (actually so was En Vogue now that I mention it- ba dump bah!), my mom was making her own pizza dough and dinner rolls; experimenting with homemade “Chinese Food” (basically just add soy sauce and water chestnuts to anything) and showing up in the kitchen, night after night, making simple, satisfying homemade food for all of us with the kind of enthusiasm that cannot be taught, only inherited.

Now I find myself years later, once again with weight to lose (thanks pregnancy). So I’m stepping back on the scale and stepping into unfamiliar territory- this time new motherhood. I am again pleasantly surprised and infinitely grateful that at least a bit of this work feels innately known, second nature and yes, filled with joy. Becoming a mother makes me feel far more connected to all the women in my life- moms and grandmothers, aunts, cousins and friends. And feeling lucky that even though until very recently their particular skill set when it comes to childrearing did not necessarily pique my interest, that just by knowing them, I was learning whether I knew it or not. By proximity alone. So I guess I should say thanks to all the moms in my life that have done this first and of course, thank you, Pizzer. For showing me how to shush a fussy baby, sauté a mean stir fry and most of all to approach the part of my life that is decidedly domestic with not just energy but passion. Because the approach really makes all the difference.

ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS

1 head Boston lettuce, leaves removed from stem and washed
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
¾ - 1 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, minced
1 red pepper, seeded and minced
8-10 white button mushrooms, cleaned and diced
3 scallions, chopped
2-3 tbsp. grated ginger
3 cloves garlic

4 tbsp. soy sauce
2-3 tsp. rice vinegar
Juice from ½ orange or tangerine; or from one whole Clementine (approx. 3-4 tbsp. orange juice)
A few dashes of Fish Sauce
Sriracha, to taste
1-2 tsp. honey
Toasted sesame oil (about 1 tsp.) (optional)
Toasted, chopped cashews or peanuts (about ½ - ¾ cup) (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add pork and sauté until no pink bits remain, push to one side and reduce heat to medium. Add onion, red pepper and mushrooms to the pan and sauté until fragrant and softened and mushrooms are a bit browned, about 5 minutes. Add an extra drizzle of oil if the pan seems dry, then add in garlic, scallions and ginger to the pan and sweat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Fold pork in with the rest of the ingredients and stir together well. Drizzle in soy sauce, rice vinegar, orange juice, fish sauce, Sriracha and honey and stir together well. Let simmer for about 3-5 minutes, stirring often.

Taste and adjust seasonings as you wish. If you want a bit more salt: add another dash or two of soy; sweetness- drizzle in a touch more honey and juice; tang- vinegar; heat- Sriracha, you get the point. I usually add a bit more of everything, being most careful with the salt (because it’s hard to go back once you go overboard) and the honey (because you don’t want a sauce that’s going to stick to the pan). Finish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil (about 1 tsp.) and crushed cashews or peanuts, if you like.

Serve hot or warm with cold lettuce leaves alongside. I like to make this into a full meal by making some white or brown rice to serve with. Even though you need to do a lot of chopping and prep- the dish itself comes together quite quickly and makes for a really impressive appetizer. If I am entertaining I like to make this ahead and then gently reheat it- it warms up very nicely. Make sure the lettuce leaves stay really cold in the fridge because the contrast of cold leaves and warm filling is what really makes this dish a stunner.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

different now

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 Life around here has assumed a slow, sweet pace for the past three months. I spent most days of my maternity leave trying to trick the baby into napping (in the swing with some ambient electronic music on works best), dashing my way through quick showers and prepping dinner with one hand while I bounce the baby in my left. Most days we found time to take a ride, run a few errands and hopefully, take a long walk to soak up the well-deserved sunshine that’s finally found its way to Massachusetts. It’s a whole new way of life that means quicker cooking and slower living and that’s just fine by me.

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Before you have a baby many, many people who already have kids like to try and prepare you for “once the baby comes…” or, alternately, the End of Your Life as You Know It. I think they are mostly well meaning and mostly correct. I mean, life is different now. Yesterday I pumped breastmilk in the back of a parking lot in my mom’s Camry. My idea of a luxurious evening is a 10 p.m. bedtime and enough time to paint my nails. I regularly pluck boogers and spit up off Russel’s face bare handed and am not the least bit grossed out by it. I am obsessed with his face and his clammy hands and tiny sweaty feet in the best possible way. On my first day back at work one of my besties checked in and asked if I was happy to be out of the house. I answered her honestly “I don’t really want to be yet. I wish I was still at home huffing his breath.” In so many ways your life is never the same, but what should be included in their warnings is this: you won’t care. Not in the least. I feel no wanderlust for my childless life. No feelings of missing out on nights at the bar. I spent enough of those to last a lifetime between 19 and 33 anyways. I know I’m not missing anything.

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Countless other folks warned me that “once the baby comes you’ll never cook again”. Which I believe might be the case for someone slightly less food obsessed than me. But you know Porky Dickens is gonna find a way to feed the beast. I’m happy to report that the rhythm of our days has allowed for –at the very least- the cooking of a proper dinner every night. We’re home after all and on a budget and it’s nice at the end of the day to do anything other than taking care of the baby after a full day of doing just that. When my husband gets home I hand him off like a hot potato and get to prepping. Sometimes if he has actually napped, I’ve even prepped a bit in advance. In the time it takes me to make dinner, Paul can usually change, play and soothe the baby to sleep, so the timing is pretty terrific. Even if he’s not asleep he’s usually full and mellow and will watch us eat dinner from his little bucket chair while mashing his meaty little hands in his mouth. By design, our meals these days have to be simple and preferably hands off like an easy baked chicken or steaming some veggies and tossing something on the grill. The other day, I made some poached chicken breasts to have on hand in the fridge in order to break my habit of going out for a high calorie lunch. I think poaching is one of those techniques that is both basic and elegant if done right. Mostly hands off and with an end result that’s like an edible blank canvas: simple, flavorful chicken breasts cooked through and ready for slicing on top of salads, into sandwiches, or chopped up into my favorite curried chicken salad.

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SIMPLE POACHED CHICKEN BREASTS

3-4 chicken breasts
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 shallot, halved and peeled
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Water

Place all ingredients in a large shallow pan (I use a braising pan) and cover by at least an inch with water. Eventually part of the tops of the chicken breasts might peek out above the water line and that’s okay. Heat burner to medium/ high heat until the water is simmering but NOT boiling (there are little bubbles, like carbonation bubbles, but not big ones that break the surface, but there is a lot of steam and the water is visibly hot). Adjust the temperature as needed, everyone’s stove tops may run differently. Poach until chicken registers 165 degrees (about 10-12 minutes, maybe more depending on the thickness of your breasts (uh huh ha).

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CURRY CHICKEN SALAD

2-3 poached chicken breasts, chopped;
or, 2 cups shredded chicken
2-3 scallions, cleaned and chopped
½ cup toasted walnuts coarsely chopped
½ cup golden raisins (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ - 2 tbs. curry powder (I like Madras and it’s easily found in most grocery stores)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients and mix together well. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and a few more sprinkles curry powder. I like a lot of spices in this, but you can make it much more mild. The bright yellow curry color actually increases with time in the fridge, so if it’s a bit pale at first, don’t judge based on that. Be careful with the salt, I tend to make this super salty because I always forget that the mayo has salt in it as well. Add salt last and adjust to your palate. Serve on warm whole grain toast with baby spinach, or on a bed of mixed greens, for a more virtuous presentation.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

sunny side up

Every year on my birthday, my mother likes to regale the dinner guests with the story of my birth. I did not come easily as it was and she accidentlly dislocated a nurse's shoulder with her foot during the process (don't ask). I was posterior, or as they used to call it: sunny side up. Turns out, it's a great way to fix eggs, but not such a hot position to come through the birth canal in.

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On February 17th at 3:23 a.m., Paul and I welcomed our son, Russel Wallace Benson, into the world. Our boy arrived after an excruciating 56 hour induction process and one very necessary surgical delivery. He was born as his mom was: sunny side up. Entering the world eyes wide open and (how appropriate) mouth first. He came out with a big strong wail and with that cry our world was forever changed. I can't wait to share all the delicious things in life with my boy. Right now we are just getting to know our new roommate and most of the cooking I am doing is one handed. Once we are settled in and done drinking in the newness of this little guy, I'll be back, with even more to share.

xoxo, Jess

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

what comes next

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The other day I was leaving my yoga class and I heard my instructor in her sweet Tennessee drawl saying to the receptionist “Did Jess leave yet?” when the woman didn’t know who she was talking about she said “you know Very Pregnant Jess? Did she leave yet?” I chuckled and tapped her on the shoulder. She simply wanted to say goodbye and wish me well seeing as this was the last class I would be able to make it to before the baby is born. Or maybe she was hoping this is the last class I’m going to waddle into before the baby is born. I have watched over the last few weeks everyone in the beginning of class peeking at me with a mix of sweetness and horror as I toddle to the mat and heavy breathe my way through the postures with a lot of support from props.

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I am so pregnant it is almost outrageous. At 38 weeks looking like I’m a month overdue because I have nourished myself so thoroughly (aka eaten like a wolverine) this whole pregnancy. At the point where every single person just kind of chuckles at you and is like “are you SO done?” to which I smile through gritted teeth and have the same conversation I have already had seven times that day and will have at least four more. Of course I’m ready and in another sense- holy shit totally NOT READY. I mean, this situation is kind of a big deal. Because it’s not like this situation ends with labor- then we have to be parents.

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It’s funny how much people want to talk to pregnant ladies. Strange middle aged men I don’t know asking if it’s my first child, sweet Irish grandmothers lilting in their brogue “when is the blessed event?”, and then of course the clueless asshat that tells me “yikes, are you sure it’s not twins?!” or “whoa. You are gonna have a BIG baby.” Let me just clue those folks into something, when the only exit route is a smallish, albeit elastic area the last thing a lady wants to hear is how “omg HUGE” their baby is going to be. This includes you mom. You can stop saying “I think you got biggah” every time you see me.

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Because Very Pregnant Jess might become Very Violent Jess if you don’t tone it down with the size comments. I know that I am comically enormous and I know deep down that this is a gift of a healthy, full term pregnancy. I also know that my current physical truth is that I need a touch of momentum to get out of the couch and every day I resemble Tony Soprano just a bit more. As in: my favorite leisure activities include heavy breathing and eating cold pasta lying down. It’s an identity I’m embracing right now and, to be quite honest, I’m also counting the minutes til it’s over because it is gonna be so frickin’ sweet to put shoes on without getting winded. I simply can’t wait. Oh and the magic of motherhood blah blah blah. That’ll be sweet too, I’m sure.

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But being Very Pregnant and working a demanding physical job during the holidays was freaking hard, yo. I’ve been determined to keep moving, stay active and keep on cooking until the end of my pregnancy and for the most part, I have been able to do that. But stamina is an issue and you do end up only getting to one or two out of the four things you had planned to accomplish on any given day. So I apologize for all the silence the past two months, blog wise, but I’ve just been doing what I can. The one day of the week where I completely recoup has always and will always be Sundays. Sundays are a sacred day in the Benson household and I hope Baby Benson gets this whenever he or she gets here. Sundays are for no alarms and staying in sweatpants, they are for a big pot of coffee and the geeky mugs we bought on our honeymoon that say I HEART MY HUSBAND and I HEART MY WIFE and more than anything they are for a simple, rib-sticking, comforting breakfast, a good conversation, and usually some sort of late 1970s R&B. This is how we do and we will continue to do in some way, shape or form when our party of two becomes a party of three. Let's just we're excited for what comes next.

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POTATO and SPINACH SKILLET BREAKFAST

5-6 red bliss potatoes, diced
1 ½ tbsp. butter
2-3 tbs. olive oil
½ white onion, minced
1 shallot
3 cloves garlic
Smoked paprika
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
Cayenne
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
2-3 cups baby spinach leaves
4 eggs

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Quarter and dice potatoes into equal-sized chunks and cover with cold water in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender, easily pricked with a knife. While the potatoes cook, prepare all other ingredients. Set a cast iron skillet over medium heat and melt butter and olive oil together. Add onion and shallot and sauté until fragrant and slightly caramelized (about 7-8 minutes). Mince garlic and add, along with about 1-2 tsp. smoked paprika, a healthy shake of Lawry’s and Old Bay and a tiny pinch of cayenne. Drain potatoes and add to skillet- add a touch more oil or butter if the skillet seems dry. Fry potatoes until completely cooked through and starting to crisp a bit on the edges, about another 8 minutes or so.

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Scatter spinach leaves into potatoes and fold together to wilt spinach. Add a pinch of kosher salt and a crank of pepper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, carve out four little pockets within the potato and spinach mixture and carefully crack one egg into each pocket. If the pan looks dry at all before you do this, add just a touch more oil to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat a touch to medium-low and cover the skillet for about 4 minutes.

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Lift cover and check progress on eggs. You want the whites completely firm but the yolks still a bit liquid. My heat was particularly low and I think it took about 6 minutes or so to finish the eggs to a nice over-easy. Sprinkle a touch more salt and some fresh cracked pepper over. Serve immediately.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

a little odd

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I think it’s a little odd to me that I have never made meatloaf before. Because what is meatloaf if not an oversized meatball? And everybody knows that meatballs are my spirit food. So it makes me wonder why it took me until the tender age of 34 to make a meatloaf of my own. And what a meatloaf it is. Super straightforward with only one additional step- finely chopped mushrooms sautéed in a little bit of soy sauce. It adds a depth of salty flavor that is basically exactly what I want out of any dish made up of a mound of ground beef. It always makes me chuckle though because when I can’t refer to meatloaf without thinking of this completely amazing fake Guy Fieri menu- which if you haven’t read yet stop everything you’re doing and do so right now. I was literally reduced to tears reading it for the first time.

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But it’s funny because I do dig meatloaf because it’s nuthin’ fancy. It's definitely not the sexiest dish out there…but it doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to pretend it’s anything that it’s not. All that's going on here is classic comfort food through and through. Simple to prepare, makes the house smell delicious on a Sunday afternoon and tastes all the better over a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes. Now I’m not gonna deny that this is a pretty hefty dish, but it’s the kind of classic chow that’s perfect for dishing up for your in-laws and mom for Sunday supper. In order to cut the richness of the meal, I also like to include a lightly dressed green salad and some roasted green beans, or asparagus. Nuthin’ fancy, but there’s nuthin’ wrong with that.

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PORKY’S ‘NUTHIN’ FANCY’ MEATLOAF

1 ½ lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
One yellow onion, grated
½ cup caramelized onions, finely chopped (optional)
7-8 mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. butter
1 ½ tbs. soy sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
Salt
Pepper
1 egg
2-3 tsp. Worcestershire
1-2 tbs. ketchup
1 ½ tsp. Dijon

For Glaze:

¼ cup brown sugar
Splash Worcestershire
1 tsp. Dijon
¾ cup ketchup

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Preheat oven to 375. Heat butter and olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp rag and then chop, fairly finely. Add to pan and sauté for about five minutes. Deglaze the pan with soy sauce, stirring constantly and let cook one or two minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside; allow to cool for a few minutes. While the mushrooms first get going, cut onion into quarters and grate on the large-holed side of a box grater. If using caramelized onions (which I used only because I had some in the fridge that needed to be used up) place in the bowl of a small food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

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In a large bowl combine ground beef and ground pork, season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add onions, both raw and caramelized (if using), add parmesan, parsley, breadcrumbs and sautéed mushrooms. Then, drop in the egg, Worcestershire, ketchup and Dijon. Using clean hands, with your fingers spread claw-like, combine everything together loosely, taking care not to over work the meat. Lightly oil the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish and gather the meat mixture together, wrangling it into a loaf-like shape. It can be a little free form and even though I have never tried the alternative, I think I much prefer this to using a bread loaf pan, because with this method you get a higher ratio of crusted outer layer to inner juicy meat layer. Dang, now I want to make another meatloaf.

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In a small, nonstick sauce pan combine brown sugar, ketchup, Dijon and Worcestershire. Heat over medium low heat until a bit bubbly and all sugar is dissolved. Spoon glaze over the top of your meatloaf and let it drizzle down the sides. Place the whole shebang into your preheated oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle reads 165.

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Serve with simple garlic mashed potatoes and a green vegetable or salad. This makes for great leftover sandwiches if you should happen to have any left. There were five of us eating dinner in this instance, so we had only the tiniest bit of leftovers.

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EASIEST GARLIC MASHED

4-5 russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
2-3 whole cloves peeled garlic
2-3 tbs. butter
Scant ¼ cup half and half

Cut potatoes into large chunks and cover with cold water in a medium to large stock pot, depending on how many potatoes you’re using. Add garlic, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the lid and let crank, until potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife. Drain water, return potatoes and garlic to pan, add butter, half and half and two big pinches kosher salt. Crank a bit of crushed black pepper over the top and puree with an immersion blender until lump-free and creamy. Don’t have an immersion blender: mash 'em old school with a regular masher. Taste test and add more salt, butter or another splash half and half if needed. Serve immediately.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

too big to ignore

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I was told to eat eggs by my midwife and I’m nothing if not vigilant at following instructions when it comes to food. Say what’s that you say? Midwife, Jess? Yes it’s true, there’s something in my belly that, for once, is not a burrito*. Spoiler alert: it’s a baby and we’re all feeling pretty stoked about it! I’m actually quite far along at this point- over the halfway mark at 24 weeks (or like 5-6 months in regular people speak). Baby Dickens will make his or her debut around the first week of February so let’s pray that we don’t have a 20 foot snow storm with three day power outages; because while I’m pretty burly when it comes to many things, giving birth to a baby in an unheated wood paneled basement does not sound like my idea of a good time.

*I can in no way whatsoever guarantee that at your particular reading of this blog post that I don’t also have a burrito in my belly.

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So the past few months of being lazy were totally justified- I mean. I’d say. As a white lady of a certain age, I’m pretty used to beating myself up if my day off productivity level a nice midpoint between Martha Stewart and Jesus. I like to Get Stuff Done- blog post (check), two loads of laundry (check), make chicken stock (check), teach yoga class (check), make hugely unsuccessful attempt at growing herb garden (double check). So when I found out I was pregnant the first week of June I embraced the new need for lots of down time and I felt, completely fine ignoring much of the to-do list and just chilling out when I had some time to myself. I mean shit I’m growing a human, I think that’s task enough for a Tuesday, wouldn’t you say? It’s all together very liberating and a gal could really get used to this. Especially the ignoring-the-herb-garden part, because I’m already really good at that.

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I have been hesitant to share this big news here, because well, I haven’t been here all that much. And I didn’t want to come back and be all “Sup dudes, how’s your summer? B T dubbs I’m pregnant. It's yours.” Plus, online pregnancy announcements in this age of all things baby being hyper fetishized, make me feel sort of self conscious. I think they are cute- don’t get me wrong, just not for me. I don’t get the facebook baby announcement- mostly because it’s SO MUCH MORE FUN to tell people in person. They jump up and down and hug you and scream (well the ladies do) and you get to see real joy in their faces. And some people cry! And if you’re me you also cry. Every single person you tell you cry, even an odd elderly gentleman at work who asked me in a creepy tone if I was “with child.” It’s all just so hilarious and so emotional and so real I would never want to reduce it to likes and comments of ‘congrats’ punched out on an iphone while someone is waiting for the T.

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And you know we’ve always been an in-person kind of family. So, I didn’t want to share news like this in a blog post until it was, well, too big to ignore. Which, I totally am. I already look like I ate another, smaller, weaker pregnant lady and I kind of love it. The first trimester food is not your friend because it feels a bit like a three month hangover. You want food. You just don’t know if food is going to cooperate once it’s in your possession. At 14 weeks I turned the corner though and I went from wanting toast with a side of toast to craving, hm, All The Foods. Thank god I have had the kind of pregnancy where cooking is still my favorite leisure activity. My sister and some close friends lamented that they just didn’t have it in ‘em/ were too ill or exhausted to saddle up to the stove. Whereas during my first few exhausted, nauseous weeks in the first trimester even though I didn’t feel like eating all that much the kitchen was the only place I felt normal. I hope that is always the case. Even when I have this bambino strapped to my chest and I’m accidentally splashing sauces on their little face (just kidding…I’ll be more careful than that!) So anyways, enough about the baby, back to the eggs!

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BRIOCHE ‘BENEDICT’ BREAKFAST STRATA

Softened butter for pan
8-10 small brioche rolls, or about ¾ of a loaf brioche, preferably day-old
½ lb. Canadian Bacon, diced
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/3 cup grated parmesan
10 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

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Slice brioche into large chunks, about 1-2 inches square-ish. In a large glass baking dish or oven-safe skillet, spread a thin layer of butter evenly on bottom and sides of pan. Set a small skillet to medium heat and brown Canadian bacon for a few minutes on each side. Dump brioche chunks into pan and in a large mixing bowl combine eggs, milk, Dijon, salt and pepper. Whisk together thoroughly and fold in approximately ¾ of the shredded cheeses (cheddar and mozzarella only), reserving parmesan and remaining shredded cheeses for later use. Scatter Canadian bacon into pan with brioche and pour egg and cheese mixture over. Squish everything down a bit so all the bread has a chance to absorb the custard. Pinch a touch more salt and pepper over the top and then scatter on reserved cheeses, including grated parmesan. Chill up to 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Optional step: I layered a sheet of plastic wrap and two heavy dinner plates on top of my strata to weight down the top so that all the bread would saturate in custard as it chilled and there would be no dry bits.

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In the morning one hour before baking: set strata out at room temperature; remove plastic wrap and plates, if using. Set oven to preheat at 375. Cover strata loosely with tin foil and bake, checking periodically for 45-50 minutes. Remove tin foil for last 10-15 minutes of baking so it gets golden brown and crusty on top. If your strata is especially soupy- cooking time may take closer to an hour. Mine was not because my brioche was a bit stale (which is ideal) so it soaked up every bit of egg. Cooking is done when a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean and it’s golden brown on top.

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Let sit about 5-10 minutes before serving. We served this with a pot of baked beans, some fruit salad and yogurt- it was a super hearty fall brunch. I also ate the leftovers for a whole week and did not get tired of it once. It is by no means a healthy breakfast dish- it’s a total comfort dish and, aside from chilling overnight, only takes about ten minutes to prepare. Perfect for a brunch or lunch crowd and can serve at least 6 people. Or one, highly motivated pregnant lady in her second trimester.

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Creative Commons License
 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.